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Can a missing chicken help Burger King get its mojo back?

This week, Advertising Age reported that the burger chain is bringing back a popular marketing campaign in an effort to strengthen sales. The Subservient Chicken marketing campaign, first released in 2001, features a man dressed up in a chicken suit who responds to the command of another person. The original campaign reiterated the chain's "Have it your way" slogan.

It's no wonder Burger King is looking into the past to revive its brand: with over 1 billion online views, the Subservient Chicken is one of chain's most viral campaigns.

Burger King is the latest brand to tap into nostalgia in the hopes of resonating with younger audiences. As The Atlantic recently pointed out, nostalgia has been pretty huge online recently, with brands bringing old faces, visuals and campaigns in their efforts to engage Millennials. This year's Super Bowl, for instance, saw several ads that featured the casts of long-gone Baywatch and Full House.

Bringing a familiar face back in your ads might seem like a cool idea, but doing so requires careful execution. As more and more brands join the nostalgic advertising bandwagon, rolling out retro ads may start to seem desperate. Most of these ads take the humorous route - but if the humor is off the mark even just by a little, viewers won't hesitate to go to Twitter and blogs to let brands how they feel.

There's also that fine line between nostalgic and dated: what feels like a nice throwback to one person might feel out-of-date for another. Advertisers need to work closely with their community of customers to make sure that viewers get the right message when they see the ads.

Finally, taking a page from your past decades' playbook requires a modern twist. The media landscape today is so fragmented that you really have to consider which media to prioritize. In Burger King's case, the Subservient Chicken is getting a major digital facelift for its resurrection - even if the original campaign mainly included TV spots:

The chain has also revived the website, although instead of a man-sized chicken ready to take orders, visitord there find an empty room with a couch and a message -- in the style of a vintage Windows-style pop-up circa 2004: "Help, There's a chicken on the loose and we are desperately trying to find him." The site also includes photos of the mascot's last known whereabouts, illustrated surveillance-style via security stills from convenience stores and parking garages. Consumers are asked to help find the chicken on digital and social media channels and to use the Twitter hashtag #FindTheChicken.

To successfully use images, visuals and personalities from the past, advertisers need to remember the classic rule of advertising: ads should come from knowing your audience - understanding why they do what they do, the values they hold, and the needs they have.

Whether the Subservient Chicken will help Burger King make a comeback remains to be seen. In the meantime, rigorous ad testing and customer engagement will help the chain - and any company wishing to use nostalgia - make better marketing decisions as it rolls out the campaign.

Photo credit: Burger King (via Twitter)

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Kelvin Claveria

Kelvin Claveria was the former Content Marketing Manager and was responsible for Vision Critical's blog and social media marketing program. Before joining Vision Critical's global marketing team, Kelvin worked at Dunn PR, a Vancouver-based public relations firm. His experience includes working with lifestyle, real estate, and non-profit clients to develop social media marketing and PR strategies. Kelvin has a Bachelor of Business Administration from SFU's Beedie School of Business.
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